Finding Freedom on Mt. Kilimanjaro

Kilimanjaro has never been a life-long dream of mine. I think the idea sprouted in my mind only back in April. I spent a few weeks convincing my friend, found a tour operator and voila, we were scheduled to climb Africa's tallest mountain in 3 months. 

But on summit night, when my hiking guide asked me how badly I wanted to achieve my goal of summiting the 19,341 ft volcano, I felt as if I've wanted to climb Kilimanjaro my whole life. Each day that passed by on the trail, I became more and more obsessed with the image of us standing by the lopsided sign, above the clouds, and on top of the (African) world.

Our amazing crew who encouraged us with their smiles, stories, singing and dancing made me want to make them proud more than anything. I wanted to do this for my parents and closest friends to show them what I can achieve with their support. I wanted to make myself proud.

We started our summit attempt at 12 am June 29th under the most beautiful full moon. After trying to chew down 2 biscuits, we turned our headlamps on and started our 3 mile uphill trek with 4,000 ft of vertical gain. In the sub-freezing night, my fingers were screaming from the pain, my legs felt incredibly heavy and my nose lost all feeling. I felt my mental clarity withering fast as I saw several hikers being assisted back down to base camp with their guides. All I wanted to do was lie down and fall asleep. Since my phone (and therefore, music) could not work in such cold temperatures, I had to keep sane and awake by counting my steps and repeating to myself "I can do it I can do it I can do it". 

Step. Step. Step. Breathe. "I can do it I can do it". Repeat. 

As I saw the first orange rays of the sun appear over the African horizon 6 hours into our trek, I couldn't help but feel hopeful. No matter how long it took, I will reach Uhuru ("Freedom") Peak. No matter how mentally challenging climbing up to Stella Point would be, I would keep moving forward to get to that summit. There was no option to turn around and quit. 

10.5 hours later, I found myself crying uncontrollably as I took my final steps to Mt. Kilimanjaro's summit. I was crying because I was oxygen deprived and delirious...and also overwhelmed with every emotion possible. I remember feeling the purest form of joy I've ever experienced. I can never forget the euphoric feeling that I had done it. If it was even possible, I felt an elevated sense of joy once I saw my friend, who is one of the strongest people I know, make it to the summit with me. 

My moment on top of Africa was short-lived. After 10 minutes we had to get down to a lower elevation immediately. Despite the 7 hour downhill journey, I was on a high the entire time. My mind could not process much at this elevation, but I could register that I achieved a feat that I could have never dreamed of achieving a few years ago. Determination is power. 

For once, I felt like I was living up to my name's meaning; I feel limitless.